Hardware & Software: Pots and Pans, Beyond The Essentials
The Basics Plus
You should customize your kitchen with cookware that suits what and how you cook as well as how much storage space you have. Choose wisely or you'll find yourself cursing the crepe pan that's always dusty and in the way.
See our article about the basic pieces every kitchen should have. This article is about adding cookware beyond the basics, the additional pots, pans, skillets, and special purpose cookware that can significantly enhance the pleasure and success of your cooking. For pans you'll use regularly, basic or not, buy the best you can afford and think of your investment in terms of per-use. For any special purpose pots and pans that you'll use less often, you can avoid paying top dollar.
- Sauce pans: 2 qt., 3 qt. 6 qt., all with covers. You can cook almost anything with these three pans.
- Stock pot: 12-16 quart with cover; this is for brining a turkey, making stocks and soups, doubles as a deep fryer, or is handy if you regularly cook very large amounts of things like chili.
- Fry pans: 7-8" and 10-14" pans (I find my 14" fry pan to be hugely useful). Buy good stainless steel ones and they'll last forever. See below for info about cast iron fry pans.
- Pasta pot: This is a large pot with a cover and an insert that makes draining easy. If you only use this as a pasta pot, you may not use it often. But think of it as a medium-sized stock pot for making soups, and use the pasta insert as a steamer, and you'll get much more use out of it.
Tip: Consider buying a less expensive stock pot that's light weight because of how we typically use these big pots: when it's full of water or another hot liquid, it's very heavy so buy one that's light when empty.
- Wok: A basic for cooks who routinely do stir fry; if you don't, a 12" fry pan can usually substitute. These come in carbon steel (it needs to be seasoned), stainless steel, cast iron, non-stick (make sure this can take high heat), and other surfaces.
- Cast iron fry pans: 10" or 12" fry pan and 10" or 12" grill pan. They need to be seasoned but once done, they're almost non-stick. I use my 12" fry pan at least once a week and love its versatility. You can roast a chicken in it, bake a pizza or corn bread, or make an entire breakfast. I regularly use my cast iron grill pan for fish.
Tip: Cast iron is not good for high acid foods like tomato sauce because the acid and iron react to each other.
- Saucier: 3 qt.; as the name says, designed with slanted sides that help liquids reduce when making sauces and syrups. I instead use my 3 qt. sauce pan.
- Cast iron stove-top griddle: sized to fit over 2 stove burners, it's more than twice the size of a grill pan plus it has a smooth side that works for pancakes, French toast, etc. For those of us who don't have outdoor grills, this can be a great tool to have.
- Fish poacher: approx. 18" x 7" x 4" A luxury to have (and store) unless you frequently poach whole fish and then it's a basic.
- Sheet pans: I have multiples in three sizes, from a half-sheet (18" x 13"), to a quarter (9" x 13"), to one-eighth (6" x 9") and find them all indispensable. I buy professional ones that are aluminum and keep them out of the dishwasher so they won't discolor; it's a bit more work to wash them by hand but they'll last forever. I buy my aluminum pans from J.B. Prince, a restaurant supply store in Manhattan with a huge selection, great prices, and outstanding customer service.
- Racks. Used to fit inside sheet pans when roasting or to use when cooling baked goods or other foods. Unexpectedly versatile and useful, and they take up very little storage space.
- Crepe pan: 7". I don't like crepes so I don't make them or eat them. But if you do, a carbon steel crepe pan will transform your crepe making.
Tip: A crepe pan can be non-stick or carbon steel; carbon steel has to be seasoned but when it is, the pan becomes more versatile than a non-stick because it can go in a very hot oven.
- Roasting pan with rack: Buy as large as will fit in your oven, ideally about 16" x 13" x 3." Get one that you can both use in the oven and also put on top of the stove after a roast is done, to make a sauce or gravy right in the emptied pan, scraping up any remaining flavors. You can also use this to roast vegetables or to bake items in a water bath, as with cheesecake or custards.
Tip: some consider a roasting pan a basic but aside from a turkey, there's not much you can't just as easily cook in a 12" fry pan or a 4 quart sauté pan. For that matter you can put a flat rack on a rimmed sheet pan and cook a turkey that way. I only use my roasting pan about once a year and if I had to do it over again, I probably wouldn't buy one.
- Dutch oven: 5-8 quart with cover. This large pot is useful for soups, large amounts of high volume vegetables like spinach or kale, and especially for braised meats and stews; you can also use it to bake bread. Most are made of either steel or enameled cast iron. Good ones, like Le Creuset or Staub, are a major investment so choose wisely but they'll last a lifetime. I have an 8-quart Staub I use often and adore it. The other piece of Staub I own and use constantly (even more often than the big Dutch oven) is a 3 1/2-quart cast iron braiser with a cover.
- Paella pan: If you want an authentic flavor, Spanish cooks swear no other pan will do. But if you only make this rice dish occasionally, your 12" or 14" fry pan is a great alternative.
- Loaf pan in glass or metal for bread, meatloafs, patés, some frozen desserts, and of course, cake.
- Soufflé dish: 6-8 qt. Can double as an oven-proof baking dish and as a prep bowl.
- Baking dish: 9" x 13" is very versatile but if you have a smaller household, a smaller gratin dish is also very handy. I love white porcelain bakeware, especially brands Pillivuyt and Apilco, but enameled cast iron and stoneware are also very good choices.
- Tagine: a shallow dish with a conical glazed terracotta cover named for the traditional Moroccan slow-cooked dish. Used to make slow-braised dishes like tagines, daubes and stews. But if you only make tagines infrequently, a Dutch oven or braiser that has a cover will work perfectly.
- Steamer insert to fit in 3 qt. sauce pan.
- Double-boiler insert to fit in 3 qt. sauce pan.
For city cooks, beautiful cookware is an ever-tempting purchase. Before you buy, think about how often you'll use a piece and where you'll keep it. Then by all means, build your kitchen arsenal.